Dear Friends & Family,
So this week was, as the title suggests, walk week. Well, actually Wednesday through Sunday were part of our walk week, which continues until this Tuesday evening, but you get the gist of it. A big part of why walk week is sometimes a struggle is that our area does not lend itself to getting to places on foot. There are two highways and an interstate that run through large parts of our area, and there are not many places accessible by foot from our apartment. So because of this, when we are on walk week, we have to be very diligent about how we plan our days, so that we know exactly when we need rides, and can plan activities that are close together so that we need as few rides as possible. Having a good, productive week here without a car is extremely possible, but it takes a little extra work.
Unfortunately I have been struggling a little bit lately. I have been grappling with feelings of unworthiness as a trainer, confusion, frustration, and a lack of confidence in my own abilities. I am not really sure what has spurred these feelings, but I have been bogged down lately, and I have honestly felt like I am falling apart. I have become extremely scatterbrained, and I find myself worrying so much about one thing going right, that I somehow fail to accomplish five other things. None of these feelings were helped by the fact that this week was walk week and I did not do my part as a trainer and senior companion to ensure that we accomplished all the things we possibly could.
I’m sorry to start this letter off as such a downer, I promise it will get better from here! On Tuesday night in Book of Mormon Class we were talking about the creation, and the teacher split us up into groups. I was put in a group with Elder M, Sister W, Sister G, and Sister L. As we were discussing our assigned reading, I was so impressed by the spiritually uplifting conversation we were having about the miracle of the creation, especially after I realized that besides Elder M, the other three people in my group were a recent convert (Sister W), a less active member (Sister G), and a recently reactivated member (Sister L). How cool is that?? I was so thankful to be able to hear and appreciate each of their testimonies, no matter how big or small they were.
This week we also had the chance to sit down with J, J’s mom, and have another one on one with her. She expressed her appreciation for us, and told us how thankful she was that we were teaching her daughter, and even asked for help with something she and J were struggling with in their relationship! It was so clear that she has begun to trust us, and I am so thankful to see it!
This week we also had the chance to see E with Sister C, and it was an extremely productive visit. We talked with her for about an hour, were able to do some service for her, and she promised us that she would be at church again soon! She is a really sweet lady, and it makes me really sad to see that her fears concerning her husband are keeping her from something that she knows is true. I want to put in a quick side note here to say how thankful I am for the members of the Lakeland Ward. They take such good care of us and the people we teach, and if I never get transferred I’ll be perfectly happy right here! (Now I’m definitely getting transferred, hahaha! But even if I do, I will have been here seven and a half months, and that is a long time!)
Another miracle this week is that Sister W found the information for a great grandmother whose work had not been done, and had the chance to attend baptisms for the dead for the first time and be confirmed for her! It was a wonderful spiritual experience for Sister W, and it is such a blessing to see how far she has come.
By the time Saturday rolled around, I was pretty overwhelmed with the feelings I talked about earlier, so thankfully we were having lunch with the STLs. We went to McDonalds to eat, and while we were there we met some Jehovah’s Witness missionaries who really wanted to talk to us and we ended up having a 20 minute conversation with them. It was pretty interesting to hear about the differences between our styles of missionary work. After McDonald’s, I was feeling like I just really needed a blessing, so we called the elders and met them at the church. I’m so thankful for priesthood blessings, I never realized how valuable they truly are until I came on my mission.
The blessing helped, and while there are definitely some things that I am still struggling with, it renewed my desire to press forward faithfully, and I am thankful for that. Following the blessing, the STLs dropped us off at Sister W’s house, and we got to talk to her about her experience at the temple! I love that lady, and her testimony. She told us also that her brother is coming down from Canada for Christmas, and she is so excited to share her experience with the temple and family history work with him and his wife! What a wonderful example of a faithful member missionary!
This week we have been provided with another striking example of member missionary work. There is an elderly man named Brother T in our ward. He has a powerful conversion story, and was a patriarch for many years. Sadly, however, he has been in and out of the hospital for months now, as his sojourn here on earth has started to come to a close. I met Brother T my second week in Lakeland, and he was overjoyed to hear that I grew up in Texas, and not Utah, or “The Factory”, as he calls it. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I had in fact been living in Utah previous to my mission. The T family is an anchor family for the church here in the Memphis area, his children and grandchildren make up many faithful families throughout this, and the neighboring stake. The reason I am telling y’all all of this is that Brother T once again entered the hospital Friday night, and the chances look very good that he will never make it back out. But on Tuesday night, just days before this last trip to the hospital, he called us and left a message, telling us he urgently needed to speak with us because he had a referral for us. Apparently he had a lengthy conversation with a man who came into his home to fix his TV, and not only told him about our religion, but gave him a Book of Mormon and committed him to reading it. I get teary eyed when I think of Brother T’s example of Christ-like love and the true missionary spirit.
Sunday was another difficult day, as J and her mom, who had promised us they would be at church, didn’t show up. And to make matters worse, halfway through Sacrament meeting J texted to let us know that it was because she had decided to check out another church that day. This came so out of the blue and was EXTREMELY upsetting to me. J is supposed to get baptized in the 21st, and here she was attending other churches! I was sitting in sacrament meeting pretty despondent. I couldn’t believe they hadn’t come. But as I was sitting there, a quote came into my mind so clearly that I honestly thought the speaker must have said it, but he didn’t. The quote was “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.” – President Thomas S. Monson. As I sat there and thought about the quote, I realized that there must be someone at church who needed our love and support. I looked around the chapel, and to my surprise, I saw B (less active) and his wife, L (non-member) sitting a few rows behind us. They haven’t been to church in a month, so that alone was a huge miracle, but as I kept looking I noticed two other inactive members who we haven’t been able to meet with in months, and who haven’t been to church in over a year! I couldn’t believe it. I had been so upset and nervous about J and her mom that I hadn’t even seen any of them come in! I felt a bit chastised by the Spirit, but so thankful for the tender mercies that help and uplift us when things get difficult. As upsetting as it was to have two people missing, I can honestly say that it was one of the most successful Sundays we have had in a long time.
I think the lesson I have learned this week is that I must get better at submitting my will, giving up the reigns, and embracing the enabling power of the atonement. Our time on Earth is challenging, stressful, and often heartbreaking, but the great truth of this life is that it was not designed for us to face these challenges alone. If we try to do so we WILL fail, so why make things more difficult? Why not reach out and accept the succor that is so generously offered by someone who suffered pains beyond our imaginations in order to give it to us? I know that as we utilize the enabling power of the atonement, we will accomplish things we never dreamt of on our own. I know that we can go from good to better, become more perfect saints, and accomplish all the work our Heavenly Father has set out for us. I love y’all, and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
PS: Two fun side notes. At dinner last night the number one question of all time was asked when R B, age 7, asked her father: “Daddy, when God was on the earth……did boys wear makeup?” It was the most confusing and hilarious thing ever. I couldn’t help but lose it right there at the dinner table. The second is that my release date is November 15th, 2016, so I officially have less than one year on my mission! Weird, but exciting.
Sister Hannah Kathryn Thomas
Freezing in our apartment that has no heat!